Review: A Number

Peter Forbes and Brian Ferguson in A Number.
Peter Forbes and Brian Ferguson in A Number.
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IDENTITY lies at the heart A Number, Caryl Churchill’s thought-provoking tale of murder amongst the clones, currently running at the Royal Lyceum as part of the of the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

Royal Lyceum, Grindlay Street

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An intriguing piece, it is played out on a stark white-box set with a minimum of features.

Designed by Fred Meller, a naked bulb on a simple flex hangs from the ceiling, there is a door, an arch, two chairs, and some faded, retro patterned pale green wallpaper.

It’s a suitably austere environment for the sinister, yet all to human tale about to unfold.

Imagine everything you thought you knew about your life, your past, and who you are is a lie. What would you do? How would you react?

At the age of 35, Bernard has recently discovered he is ‘not unique,’ not an only child as he had always believed. Not even a twin, but one of a number of clones created as part of a morally bankrupt genetic experiment.

There are other Bernards out there. Many others. The implications of that are at the forefront of his mind as he seeks explanations from his father, Salter.

Salter’s deviously ‘ineffectual’ nature conspires to divert Bernard 1 from discovering the truth of his situation as Peter Forbes pitches his performance perfectly.

Often allowing the silences to speak louder than words, he manipulates the situation to his own selfish ends.

Churchill’s writing, staccato, fast and tempered, brings a stylised delivery to the opening father and son conversation which strips the dialogue of natural flow.

Controlled, it serves the mystery of Bernard 1’s origins well, although hinders the piece once they are established.

As Bernard 1, Bernard 2 and Michael Black, Brian Ferguson creates three distinct characters - each the same but entirely different.

It’s a fascinating and at times electric performance that is quite spell-binding.

As Ferguson flips from clone to clone, the questions come thick and fast ensuring that this short piece, which runs just under an hour, never drops its pace.

Ben Ormerod’s clever lighting design offers additional depth to the nature of each scene while composer Michael John McCarthy contributes a suitably punchy sound design.

Directed by playwright Zinnie Harris with a light touch, A Number is equally as much an exploration of father and son relationships as it is a look at genetic identity.

Touching on the grieving process at points, nurture versus nature too is a theme.

A play, then, that is guaranteed to leave you thinking about it long after the lights have gone down, A Number is well worth catching.

Until Saturday

Please note: A Number starts 8.30pm